Four hours after making their final selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, everything remains quiet on the free agency front for the New England Patriots. While they are usually among the most active teams in the league in trying to acquire unselected young talent after the draft, they are seemingly taking a different approach this year.
Even though the scramble for talent is an ongoing one, New England has yet to sign even a single rookie free agent. For comparison, the Los Angeles Chargers brought in ten first-year players from the open market within the first few hours; the Pittsburgh Steelers announced signing eight to free agency deals.
So, what is going on at One Patriot Place?
Answering that question from outside the process is impossible to do, but New England having only six open spots on its current roster might have something to do with this. It is also possible that the team is simply waiting for the market to settle instead of handing out comparatively sizable guarantees to players unlikely to earn any significant playing or practice time to begin with.
Add the fact that the rookie pool is considerably smaller and thus more shallow this year — only 657 prospects were eligible for the draft, down from 1,932 last spring — and there are some realistic explanations for the Patriots’ slow signing period thus far. Whatever the motives are, New England’s 2021 rookie free agency is looking a lot different than it has over the last few years.
Head coach/general manager Bill Belichick did also not make things any clearer during his post-draft media conference call on Saturday afternoon.
“We’ll just take the free agency process with the undrafted players as it comes and see how that goes and just keep working through things,” he said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done. We certainly had players come to our team after the draft process is over — David Andrews, J.C. Jackson, J.J. Taylor. You can go right down the line. There have been a lot of them. We’ll continue to work through the draft and rookie process now and try to improve the team in any way we can.”
So far, the process mentioned by Belichick has led to eight players getting drafted over the last three days (including possible future starting quarterback Mac Jones). When it comes to rookie free agency, however, New England has taken a more patient approach this year.
As a result, the future of the Patriots’ 17-year streak of at least one UDFA making the opening day roster is not looking bright.